Nuala Woulfe swapped chemical cleaning agents for natural ingredients. Did they work as well or was it just a lot of hassle so she could feel good about herself?

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Are natural cleaning products actually any good?

As part of her annual Spring clean, Nuala Woulfe swapped chemical cleaning agents for natural ingredients. Did they work as well or was it just a lot of hassle so she could feel good about herself?

Are natural cleaning products actually any good?

I spring cleaned my home with ‘natural’ ingredients like lemons, bread soda and vinegar to cut down on household chemicals. But is cleaning naturally good for the environment?

Yes, says Ger Hayes, senior technician at environmental consultancy firm, www.ecofact.ie. It reduces the amount of cleaning bottles to be recycled and boiling water or the use of vinegar or alcohol is sufficient for most sterilisation needs.

“Personally, I wouldn’t be buying cleaning products. They’re more costly than traditional methods. We don’t need half the stuff we buy. Even things like bleach — if you can smell it, you are breathing it in.

“People often over-clean their house too, whereas even with unpleasant odours, opening a window for fresh air is better than spraying. It’s partly about changing people’s mindset.”

Hayes also says chemicals do not affect all people equally.

“Some people who are over-exposed to certain chemicals, it can cause sickness, tiredness and even chronic fatigue. We’re all different and each organism will react differently to chemicals,” he says.

Keeping chemicals to a minimum can benefit people affected by eczema or cancer, even migraine. The Migraine Association of Ireland says 500,000 Irish people get migraine and American studies suggest half of sufferers are prone to attack from smells.

“The 3 Ps — perfume, petrol and paint — would be a trigger in a lot of people,” says Fiona Collins, of the association.

“People do call to say that smells are a factor in their migraines and what should they do. If you are affected by smells and can reduce the amount of household cleaning products around the home, it would probably be a good idea,” she says.

In Ireland’s only eco-village, Cloughjordan, Sandy Anthony hasn’t bought a cleaning product in three years. The Tipperary-based entrepreneur is writing an e-book on how to clean your home naturally and is in negotiations to sell her products.

“I started making soaps as gifts — that’s where my interest began. I’m also writing an e-book, because there’s a lot of rubbish on the internet about how to clean things and they just don’t work.”

Even after three years, Anthony is still experimenting and has just made her first batch of linseed oil/ liquid soap cleaner, with which she cleans leather, wooden floors and natural tiles.

So with eco ideas and problem areas identified in my home, I began my own spring clean. Armed with lemons, tomato ketchup, vinegar, bread soda, hot water and assorted cloths, here’s what I did and what works. (With any item, it’s a good idea to patch-test first.)

The hob:

I sprinkled bread soda on my stainless steel hob and squeezed the juice of a small lemon on top. The mixture bubbled.

Massaging a squeezed half-of-lemon gently over the hob, everything lifted after a few minutes and it gave a fantastic shine when I rinsed off with water and a cloth. No effort was required; it was fast and the smell was nice.

Result: 10/10.

(Sandy Anthony told me the lemon wasn’t necessary, so I tried out bread soda on my stainless steel sink and made a paste with a little water. Again, everything shifted easily and quickly.)

Oven:

I hate the smell of conventional oven cleaners, so I tried bread soda and lemon in the oven and on the oven door.

Tips say to leave overnight for best results, but after an hour I rubbed down with the rough, plastic side of the sponge and everything came away.

Results: 9/10.

Microwave:

I placed a cup of boiling hot water in the microwave and then microwaved on high for 45 seconds.

You can squeeze in a few drops of lemon, but it’s not necessary. Steam lifts all food splashes, when left for 10 minutes and wiped down with kitchen towels.

Result: 10/10.

Windows/mirrors:

Eco tips from the internet say use vinegar.

Method 1: One cup of vinegar to two cups of hot water in a basin. I used white-wine vinegar.

My windows were squeaking clean, but no matter if I rubbed down with kitchen towels, newspaper or micro-cloth, I couldn’t get rid of streaks and there was too much rubbing.

Result: 6/10.

Method 2: Put vinegar into a spray bottle and spray onto mirrors or glass. This worked better, but only in small areas. The vinegar seems to dry fast and streaks appeared. Long-term, I’m not certain it wouldn’t damage glass.

Result: 8-10.

Brass:

Cleaning brass was recommended with lemon or tomato ketchup.

First, get a magnet and if it sticks your brass is not real and should not be cleaned using ketchup/lemon. My door brass was almost green. I rubbed in some ketchup on the door knob and let it sit, then rubbed off loosened grime with a kitchen towel.

I tried the knocker with lemon juice. Both methods shifted grime — a bit of rubbing was necessary.

Result: 6/10 for lemon and 7/10 for ketchup.

Thought the lemon-cleaned brass dulled after a few days. However, I’d probably be willing to stick with eco methods and give a rub every time I’d a spare lemon.

Airfresheners/deodorisers:

Bread soda or baking powder left in a tub in the fridge, or anywhere there’s unpleasant smells, will absorb odours.

Result: 10/10.

I found a few drops of pleasant aromatherapy oils; rosemary, lavender or lemon in a spray of water make a nice air freshener.

Two drops of essential oil can be put on cotton wool, or on sheets of kitchen paper, to freshen up a problem area like a laundry basket. (Remember to keep oils out of contact of small children).

Using an aromatherapy burner allows oils and water to evaporate into the air. About three drops in your washing machine drawer freshens laundry.

Oils like rosemary, tea tree, and lavender have disinfectant properties and can be useful in the bathroom diluted in a spray. I tried all these methods and found the outcome pleasant.

Result: 9/10.

Furniture:

I rubbed olive oil into my dark, wooden fireplace and it became shiny. It was easy and fast.

Result: 9/10.

I also tried olive oil on my leather sofa (the bit the cat got) and it shined up, but nothing amazing.

Conclusion: I’m not the kind of woman who loves cleaning the house. If there’s cleaning to be done, I want it to be fast, effective and low on overpowering smells, and some eco methods do seem to deliver on these requirements.

I found bread soda the most suprising and versatile ingredient.

Internet tips suggest a very wide use for bread soda and I’m definitely interested in trying more.

However, information from the internet can also be confusing and overwhelming, so it’s best to start small and always, always patch-test first.

READ MORE: Saying goodbye to hangovers while holding on to the craic

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